By Keith Wong

“For toilet, must go very far,” is how Syful Md Siddiqur Rahman puts it.

“How far is far?” I ask. “Go into the jungle?”

“No jungle there,” he explains. “Go other corner [of] site. Very big site.”

Syful is describing his living conditions and the sanitation arrangements he has to put up with. He was working for ACA Cabins Pte Ltd, a company that re-builds shipping containers into offices, workers’ quarters, refrigerated containers, even toilets and bathrooms (link to their simple website). Eight employees stay in containers at the worksite, and there is even a container toilet. But while “urine, shower can use container, big toilet cannot.”

It’s beginning to sound as if there is no sewer connection, and therefore it is possibly illegal to house workers at this location.

The site, 10 Tuas South Street 1, is a large one, dominated by a shed about 150 x 120 metres. It appears to be shared by several companies. ACA Cabins is one of them, occupying the Southeast quadrant of the site. Around the shared shed is a yard filled untidily with pipes, scrap metal and other detritus. At ACA Cabins’ corner, it is stacked with shipping containers; the men live in some of them.

I ask if they get clean water.

“Water comes from a pipe, says Syful, but “after use, don’t know water go where” — which supports my hunch that there’s no sewer connection.

ACA Cabins uses the Southeast corner of the site at Tuas South Street 1

ACA Cabins uses the Southeast corner of the site at Tuas South Street 1

Signs of habitation

Signs of habitation

The company didn’t always house employees at its yard. When Syful first joined the company, about 19 months ago, they stayed in a dormitory at Tuas South Avenue 5. But after about six months, he and his workmates were moved to the worksite at Tuas South Street 1. Syful was sure the reason for the move was to save costs. “Here no need pay money. Dormitory must pay money. All boss thinking like that.”

The current arrangements are as follows:

Three of the eight workers are from China. One of the Chinese has a 20-foot container all for himself. “He take wife there,” explains Syful, though he cheekily expresses some doubt whether they are legally married. The other two Chinese share another container.

The lone Indian and four Bangladeshis share the third 20-foot container. Four of them squeeze into the air-conditioned half while Syful — “I no like A.C. My body problem” — has an entire half for himself. There’s a partition between the two halves. It doesn’t seem like a fair apportionment of space, but Syful explains that “Before, boss many like me. But now accident happen, don’t like already.”


Hospital denies him his papers

On 18 October 2014, he fell about 1.2 metres and was rushed to National University Hospital on a lorry. Fortunately, no bones were broken, but his wrist injury is bad enough that, two months later, it is still in stiffener glove.

There was also a problem sometime in November. NUH told him that his employer did not pay earlier bills, and the hospital stopped providing him with documents, such as his medical leave certificate. His hospital appointment card was also refused to him. The absurdity from such a move was that Syful had no clue when his next medical appointment was, but if he failed to show up, his work injury claim could be compromised.

“Mr Loh,” a volunteer with TWC2 “help me talk to hospital counter,” says Syful, and apparently resolved the issue. “Now, company pay already,” and NUH has given him his medical leave certificate and appointment card. He has appointments in December and January.

Around the same time, Syful decided to move out of the Tuas container. It was too far from the hospital and from any kind of help he might need, e.g. from TWC2. “I move here better,” he says, indicating his present location in Little India. Lots of amenities are within walking distance in this district, as is social support. Most important of all, assistance by TWC2  — not least the free meals — is within reach.